Font Size


Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

Dr. Jean M. Twenge has been studying psychological and behavioral differences across generations for 25 years. In a recent article in The Atlantic magazine, Twenge writes about how smartphones and social media have changed every facet of young peoples’ lives, from the ways they socialize to their mental health. All young people, regardless of geography, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, have been impacted in significant ways by technology.

Twenge notes that members of “iGen”—those born between 1995 and 2012—have grown up with smartphones and don’t remember a time before the internet. The average American teen spends two and a half hours on electronic devices per day. According to Twenge, there is evidence that smartphone use is making young people unhappy. For example, she notes that eighth-graders who use social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports or go to religious services cut their risk significantly.

Teens may be physically safer today than they have ever been because they spend more time indoors on their devices and drink less alcohol than their predecessors. Yet psychologically, they are at greater risk of depression and suicide, according to Twenge. Rates of both have gone way up since 2011. “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades,” Twenge writes. “Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones. The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.”

What’s the connection between smartphones and depression? Twenge writes: “Today’s teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it. Accordingly, the number of teens who feel left out has reached all-time highs across age groups. Like the increase in loneliness, the upswing in feeling left out has been swift and significant.”

Girls are at greater risk of depression than boys because they use social media more, which means they are more likely to see that their friends or classmates are getting together without them and feel excluded. Also, girls are more susceptible to cyber bullying. “Social media give middle- and high-school girls a platform on which to carry out the style of aggression they favor, ostracizing and excluding other girls around the clock,” Twenge writes.

Constant use of smartphones can have long-term behavioral and health consequences. Twenge notes that adolescence is “a key time for developing social skills,” but as teens spend less time hanging out with their friends in person, they have fewer opportunities to develop those skills.


In addition, electronic devices appear to disrupt sleep more than other factors. Studies have shown that “children who use a media device right before bed are more likely to sleep less than they should, more likely to sleep poorly, and more than twice as likely to be sleepy during the day.” As Twenge points out, sleep deprivation leads to a variety of health issues, including compromised thinking and reasoning, susceptibility to illness, weight gain, and high blood pressure.

Twenge asserts that the correlations between depression and smartphone use are convincing enough that parents should set boundaries with their children to keep them from falling into bad habits. She offers the following advice to teens: “Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something—anything—that does not involve a screen.”